Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.
I think of these words as a kind of summary of the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. I imagine each phrase took a long time to come out and there were great periods of agonized silence. Contemplating this prayer this week, I thought of all our talk during Lent about the Spirit and the opportunity of deepening our spiritual lives.
And I remembered some words from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (8:26)
Jesus was not alone in the Garden, despite the fact of his sleeping disciples. His moment of weakness was the Spirit’s moment of prayer beyond words.
We know that same Spirit in our moments of agonizing surrender. We may not call it that; it may not be in our consciousness, but it is the desire, the prayer beyond words, longing for some truth that will set us free.
“Surrender” is not understood to be a positive word in our society. “Never surrender” is the kind of attitude our heroes have. “She’s a fighter,” is something you say about someone you admire. But think of the consequences of a “never surrender” way of life.
It is simply the truth that none of us can “never surrender” or “keep fighting” all the time. In order to pretend to do so we have to develop a heightened capacity for denial, and we need others who are “weak” to compare ourselves to. It is then easy to step over the line into aggression in order to prove my strength against someone else’s weakness, and suddenly we are in the world of bullies and “stand your ground” gun laws.
I hope people are hearing the message today: Jesus did not stand his ground.
I got our Lenten them of “A Season for the Spirit” from a book by Martin Smith of that title. It is a book of daily Lenten meditations. He talks about surrender right up front, in the meditation for Ash Wednesday. He is reflecting on the Spirit’s driving Jesus into the wilderness after his Baptism.
[I often think] about the vulnerability, the self-surrender of Jesus, giving himself over to the Spirit’s driving force….
[This is] nthe surrender of submission to an enemy, but the opposite, the laying down of resistance to the One who loves me infinitely more than I can guess, the One who is more on my side than I am myself…What we are called to [surrender] … is control itself! Deliberate efforts to impose discipline on our lives often serve only to lead us further away from the freedom which Jesus attained through surrender to the Spirit, and promised to give. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
But didn’t this surrender of Jesus go horribly wrong? Are not his last, agonizing words, a cry of God’s abandonment? The Gospel writer clearly wants us to understand that the darkness of that moment was total. Is this what God wants from us?
Yes, I am afraid to say, but not in some kind of way that glorifies sacrifice and suffering. Suffering is not redemptive, even though it is almost always part of the redemptive process. Love is redemptive. Only love is redemptive. We look on this agonizing scene and we know it is not the end. We are not doing a re-enactment this week, pretending we do not know the end of the story. We do know the end of the story.
So we know that Jesus’ surrender, even in his cry of abandonment, was a surrender in hope, into the only power that could result in his total freedom, and that was the power of love. In his surrender he knew the truth and the truth set him free, a freedom we will celebrate next week.
If we are to save ourselves and our society from the insane rule of violence, we need to proclaim Jesus’ message: that our true strength lies in our ability to let go. We need desperately to re-build a world on the foundation of what Paul said he heard Jesus telling him through all his trials:
My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)